2 Facts B2B Businesses Should Know About SEM

Written by ForwardDigital

For B2B businesses in Las Vegas - and throughout the country - Search Engine Marketing, or SEM as it’s commonly referred to, is vital to their online marketing success. To help B2B companies better understand why they need to engage in SEM, we've put together some helpful information and tips!

SEM’s primary tactics, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and paid search (PPC), are critically important to B2B business’ ability to attract new customers. Below are 2 important facts all B2B businesses should know about SEM:

SEM is mandatory if you plan to dominate your industry

Even businesses with elite sales teams and bounties of client referrals will never achieve their maximum potential if they choose to ignore Search Engine Marketing. The simple fact is that search engines – especially Google – play an indispensible role in the way modern customers make purchase decisions, including both individual consumers and companies/organizations.

Let’s look at the facts on how search engines fit into B2B decision makers’ purchase habits, as presented by a recent Enquiro B2B study:

  • 63.9% of respondents cited a search engine as the first place they would go online to learn more about a product or service under consideration.
  • 82.9% of respondents reported Google as their search engine of choice
  • Of companies with budgets of $50,000 or more, respondents stated they were 3x more likely to begin their research through a search engine than through a known manufacturer of the product.
  • For purchases of more than $10,000, over 60% of buyers indicated they would begin researching 2+ months in advance

Based on this data, you can argue that all B2B companies should engage in SEO and paid search. Failure (or refusal) to do so will only result in missed opportunities for those sitting on the sidelines, creating more opportunities for competitors who opt to participate in the game.

SEM can drive serious ROI for B2B companies

I’ve heard and read a considerable number of opinions on why SEM is best suited for consumer-focused companies and brands; not B2B. In my opinion, B2B businesses and marketers who write off SEM as ineffective or inappropriate are doing themselves a disservice, costing themselves money in the process. 

The truth is, there’s a great deal of ROI in Search Engine Marketing for B2B companies. Unleashing the true potential and value of B2B SEM just requires better strategy and improved targeting, measurement and optimization techniques. That's an incredibly broad statement, so let’s dive in deeper:

Better strategy 

The purchase processes of businesses seeking services from other businesses are remarkably different than those of consumers seeking products or services from online retailers. For example, the purchase path of a consumer in need of a new pair of running shoes might look like this:

  • Searches “best running shoes” on Google
  • Browses different brands, colors and styles on a few different sites
  • Searches Google to find the best price for the desired brand, style, color and size
  • Searches Google for discount codes for the selected online retailer
  • Completes the purchase
  • Upon receiving the merchandise, posts a photo to social media

The relatively low number of variables involved in the consumer’s purchase process allows a decision to be made in a single setting - sometimes within a span of a few minutes. For those purchases, instant satisfaction is the name of the game.

As the importance and cost of the purchase to the consumer increases, so does the amount of time and effort spent researching and comparing options before a purchase is made. For example, a honeymoon trip to Italy is likely to take a lot more time to complete than the purchase of new shoes.

For businesses, purchase decisions are more like the Italian honeymoon. With the exception of smaller, one-off purchases and office supplies, the majority of business’ purchases require a great deal of research, analysis and planning due to their high cost and substantial impact on the business’ operations.

As such, it’s not uncommon for business to spend months researching products and services online before beginning the purchase process. The table below (taken from the same Enquiro study cited above) shows the correlation between purchase price and research lead-time for B2B companies.

b2b buying cycle and SEM

Armed with this information, it’s up to B2B marketers - and marketing agencies offering SEM services - to adjust their Search Engine Marketing strategies accordingly.

Rather than making every effort to close major deals within the first few interactions, B2B marketers need to develop strategic, long-term strategies for attracting potential customers. Once they gain those prospects’ attention, they must then guide and nurture them throughout the purchase process. That’s where the next factor comes in.

Improved targeting, measurement and optimization techniques

Knowing that the purchase process for B2B companies can be a complex and lengthy affair, it’s imperative that B2B marketers utilize sophisticated SEM targeting and management tools to carry out their long-term lead generation strategies. That's where Software as a Service (SaaS) comes in.

The SaaS industry has exploded over the past decade. Its extraordinary growth can be attributed to increased collaboration between business/marketing innovators and imaginative software developers. 

saas growth
Photo credit: crmlandmark.com

According to this PC World article, Gartner, a leading IT research and advisory firm, predicts that the global SaaS industry will exceed $20 billion in 2015; more than 150% above its 2012 level. This impressive growth is being fueled by the proliferation of “The Cloud” and “Big Data,” combined with B2B companies’ demand for greater efficiencies, decreased costs and increased profits.

What does this mean for B2B marketers? It means that SaaS creates the opportunity for B2B companies to realize previously untapped potential.

SaaS' benefits to B2B marketers

  • Deeper understanding of website visits and engagement through innovative website analytics and monitoring tools
  • Dramatic improvements in digital marketing campaigns run on advanced automated marketing platforms
  • Significant increases in sales and sales efficiencies through implementation of customized Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, tools
  • Delivery of timely, relevant marketing messages to precisely targeted audiences at each stage of the purchase process using intelligent ad buying networks and revolutionary website analytics platforms with incredible data layering capabilities
  • Unprecedented collaboration opportunities made possible by cloud storage solutions, online project management platforms and improved security

As you can see, the right platform – or combination of thereof – can empower B2B marketers to deliver the perfect message to the right person at the ideal time.

In my opinion, the most important factor in this process is audience segmentation. Audience segmentation involves the classification and organization of prospective customers into meaningful groups. Proper segmentation allows B2B marketers to deliver the most timely, relevant messages at every digital touch point. 

marketing audience segmentation

The result is a personalized, tailored experience for the prospect, which is far more likely to inspire action than a generic marketing message.

B2B marketers may choose to group prospective customers into unique buckets based on factors such as:

  • Needs or issues the prospect is looking to alleviate
  • Prior experience the prospect has had with their company
  • Number of contacts the prospect has had with their company
  • Level of engagement the prospect has had with their company: Following on social media? Requested additional info through the website? Downloaded a white paper or case study? Met at a trade show or industry even? Attended or downloaded a webinar?
  • Competitors the prospect has vetted and/or done business with
  • Purchase history (for existing or past clients)

Using these buckets, B2B marketers can more effectively craft marketing messages that are likely to mean something and add value to a prospective customer.

The challenge is acquiring this information, as most prospective customers don’t wear this detailed information on their sleeves, and they’re not likely to divulge it to untrusted parties. Again, that’s where smart, strategic marketing comes into play.

By understanding from the outset what buckets they’re going to create and market to, B2B companies can formulate their marketing strategies to incorporate data-gathering techniques and tactics.

The following are examples of how B2B marketers can gather more detailed information about their prospects:

  • Emailed or online surveys or questionnaires
  • White paper or case study downloads that require the user to divulge more than just their name and email address
  • Engagement through social media and forums (Google+, Twitter and Quora are great for this)
  • Asking questions during in-person sales calls (Make sure their answers are entered into a CRM!)
  • Interactive demos, both online and in-person, with Q&A sessions

Once B2B marketers have their buckets in order, they can consistently improve the effectiveness of their marketing efforts by A/B testing virtually everything they do.

A/B testing, by definition, is the marketing methodology of conducting randomized experiments using two test variables – “A” and “B” – in order to determine which of the two variables produces a desired result more often.

For example, using an A/B testing tool, a B2B marketer choose to send half of his/her paid search traffic to a landing page where the “Request a Demo” button (the primary call-to-action, or CTA) is red, and the other half of paid search traffic to a landing page where that same button is green. 

a/b testing
Photo credit: Optimizely

In this case, the marketer will be able to definitively measure which of the two pages results in a higher number of visitors completing the desired action (requesting a demo). This is referred to as the page’s conversion rate. This process is commonly referred to as conversion optimization

conversion rate

Based on this data, the marketer may then determine that green is the optimal color for the “Request a Demo” button, and can confidently direct 100% of his/her paid search traffic to that version of the landing page. In the next test, he/she may choose to test two different headlines for that same landing page to see which drives more conversions. This process can be repeated for just about any variable.

Common A/B testing variables

  • Email marketing subject lines
  • Ad creative: photo selection / headline copy / CTA buttons and link text
  • Landing page elements: general layout / headline copy / key element colors / photo selection / length of content / number of required fields (for forms)

In conclusion

As you can see from the data and insights presented above, B2B companies need engage in Search Engine Marketing. In doing so, though, they need to be prepared to invest the time, resources and, perhaps most importantly, money to execute an effective SEM campaign.

If you own or work for a B2B company that's looking for more qualified leads, wants to increase its market share over the competition or just wants to improve its overall online visibility, click the button below to schedule a 30-minute consultation!